Serhixty Thrahee Ferhucking Pounds?
The cumulative cost of watching all of Manchester United’s away league games during that oh so memorable 1998-99 season was £391, which was an average of £20.57 per game. For those of us who saw those games, it’s pure co-incidence that we were rewarded by United winning the league. It was worth a thousand times what we paid, but I like to think that we’d have had something to say and do about it if tickets were even twice what they were.
I suspect Arsenal fans, who like us will have had their pants pulled down by a handful of clubs who operate a tiered system of tickets prices, will have paid the same and got nothing for their emotional and financial troubles. That’s OK though, because we follow our football clubs because we love them and because they are part of us. And it’s this blind faith, through thick, thin and ever increasing ticket prices, that football clubs prey on. They do it brazenly and without any justification other than that they continue to serve up a good “product”.
This week Manchester City announced that they returned about 900 tickets to Arsenal for their game at The Emirates on Sunday 13th January. What’s notable about this particular failure to sell out (City have returned a similar number a couple of times previously) is that it was accompanied with several unofficial statements and internet posts, and followed up in the press and broadcast media, about the cost of tickets for this game – £63 (£16 in 1998). Now, what I’m supposed to do here as a United fan is ignore the cost of tickets (which have been creeping up every year and let’s be honest, once you’ve paid £55 you might as well just pay £75) and focus on City fans not being as loyal as they crack on, 20,000 empty seats an’ all. What clubs would like you to do is mock City fans, maybe say “eek, £63, that’s a bit steep…ooh is it on telly” but then crack on with your day. And historically that’s what we have done and that’s what we threaten to do, such is our apparent acceptance that clubs will increase prices and that we are all but powerless to do anything about it. Que sera sera.
Our spineless surrender to the mafia that is most Premier League clubs and their ticketing policies could not have been more heart-sinkingly embodied than by Kevin Parker, Secretary of the Manchester City Supporters Club. Parker has had his say on the return of these Arsenal tickets in a few outlets, including national radio on 5Live’s Drive show, which airs between 4-7pm, when millions of people are listening in cars, at work or at home and ready to be influenced, encouraged, informed or entertained. It was a prime opportunity for Parker to announce that he thought Arsenal were taking the piss, that something needs to be done and that in his view fans need to mobilise to put an end to this unregulated rip-off. I mean, that’s what I’d want a fans representative to say in the face of such exploitation.
Not Kevin. He just wanted to tell us of the bad timing and that without Christmas getting in the way City would’ve sold out. Christmas, Christmas, Christmas “fans will always find the money” he says, completely missing the opportunity to open up a discussion on national radio and to encourage a united front… ok, a unified front… no, still too “Rag”… A JOINED UP APPROACH to bringing down ticket prices. I think he managed to split the listeners right down the middle – those who the story completely passed by due to the unspectacular way he dealt with it and those, like me, who were shouting at their radio “no, you miss the fucking point. Forget Christmas, what about Arsenal? What about £63 tickets. SIXTY FUCKING THREE POUND TICKETS?”. His failure to tackle the real issue on such a public forum is symptomatic of us having collectively given in. There’s no hope for us because we’re just going to keep on paying higher and higher prices until one-by-one we just stop going altogether and surrender our game for good. Or are we? Bear with me, I’m going to suggest something radical.
There’s a lot wrong with our game but we are lucky to have so many good quality independent fanzines being produced. They represent those amongst us who still have a bit of fire in our belly. They’re likely to be the main source of information and encouragement when there are things going on in and around our club that affect us or require us to mobilise. These fanzines and the people who get off their arses to write, produce and sell them represent some hope that we can get other supporters to recognise that something needs to happen to stop clubs getting away with what Arsenal and their ilk are charging fans. We also have a lot of very active supporters groups and we could, with a bit of encouragement, have quite a few more. So, let’s take a leaf out of the Germans book and act as one to change our game. Sounds romantic doesn’t it? If you’re in the “yeah, but it’ll never happen” camp then stop reading now.
The fanzines and supporters groups could come together and target certain clubs. Pick Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, for example. In fact, pick United and Liverpool too so we don’t like London-hating, clog-wearing Northern lefties. Pick all those clubs who have an away ticket price of, say, £40+ (and even that is a piss take) and agree as one that we’re not going. Get editors to sign up to it. Get fans groups to sign up to it. Write letters and articles which recognise that it is a difficult decision but one we need to take for the long term good of the game and our pockets. Pinpoint certain offending clubs and particular games and make a big song and dance about the fact that we’re going to give them a miss on principle. Make a nationwide stand that no one goes to, say, Anfield. We could even positively target clubs like Wigan and make sure their away end is rammed for every game to reward their better-than-most policy. We can come back to that…. Hand out leaflets at games, use social media, hijack radio phone-ins, get yourself a slot on TV and radio news programmes. Use everything at your disposal to announce that Club X is taking the piss and won’t be getting your money. If Sky can succeed in renaming days of the week like Super Sunday then why can’t we rename one PISSTAKINGMAFIABANDITCUNTS Saturday / Sunday / Monday Night and leave no one in any doubt who’s top of the bill?
Imagine reading announcements within hours of the fixtures being released outing guilty clubs and threatening to hurt them where it hurts most – their pockets. “Due to the fact that the opposing clubs charged our fans £X for last season’s games, which we believe to be unacceptable and an abuse of our loyalty, our fixtures at White Hart Lane, Anfield, Old Trafford, The Emirates, Stamford Bridge etc.. have been designated as stay-away games. We will be organising events and venues on these days, which may include screenings of games (on snide Sky feeds – fuck off Murdoch). Please look out for further announcements. We ask for your support in staying away so that we can show these clubs that they need to lower prices to have a chance of selling away allocations”. It won’t kill you not to go to a game. You’d be doing yourself a favour in the long term because if Arsenal or United thought they’d have a season of half-empty away ends and the associated bad press that goes with it, not to mention even shitter atmospheres than there are already, they’d review their pricing quicker than you might think.
Demonstrating this sort of power takes courage and commitment. Courage to be in the minority of people who first agree to do it and then encourage others to follow suit and commitment to see it through so that it actually has some impact. It’s no good ten of you deciding not to go. You need to use the tools at your disposal to articulate the long term benefit of missing these games and persuade people to make a stand with you. Make it the accepted normal thing to do because it gets us all cheaper tickets. It takes one club’s fans to pull it off successfully and then we’ll crack it. Do you support that club?
If the same act of defiance was seen by millions every other week as the MOTD camera pans past the empty away end at The Emirates, interspersed with similar scenes at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford and accompanied by non-stop coverage on phone-ins etc, then we’ll get them to start listening. It could be the catalyst needed to encourage a debate on setting ticket price ceilings.
Arguments against such a movement are likely to be many. United’s loyalty pot is one reason why Reds wouldn’t be amongst the first to support such an idea and there are always going to be fans out there who are repulsed by the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder with their rivals and neighbours. But the reasons to do it far outweigh the reasons not to do it. In the blink of an eye tickets are going to be £80-£100 so the decision to go to games is going to be out of most people’s hands. My idea might need some work on it but if someone doesn’t do something soon then we’re going to be pushed even further away from our clubs than many of us have been already. Anyway, I’m off to wank some truck drivers off so I can afford to pay for Madrid and Tottenham away.